Terra Nova CancelledUPDATEDThere will be no second season of pre-historic drama Terra Nova on Fox. The network’s brass just made the decision after weeks of exploring potential Season 2 tweaks to the series set 85 million years in the past. Fox had to make the decision early so the show could make a fall return if renewed. Despite its pedigree — produced by Steven Spielberg and Peter Chernin — Terra Nova did not become a runaway hit, but its decent ratings, coupled with strong international sales for sibling 20th Century Fox TV, which produces the series, were keeping renewal hopes alive. 20th TV now plans to shop Terra Nova, starring Jason O’Mara and Stephen Lang, to other networks. At TCA in January, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly was non-committal when asked about the future of the series. “If this is all we make (of Terra Nova), we made money on it, the studio made money on it, and it seems to have resonated with the family audience,” he said. “There is a show, which if we are to bring back, there’s an audience there. But creatively, the show was hunting (for its identity). If we had more holes in our network, we’d be thrilled to lock that right in.”

It is interesting that from what I hear, it was Reilly who made the call to cancel Terra Nova, while it was his boss, Peter Rice, who championed and bought the project exactly two years ago. With House ending its run and Terra Nova gone, Fox has three more dramas on the bubble: two with slim chances of renewal — midseason entries Alcatraz and The Finder —  and Fringe, which could clinch a 13-episode pickup if the budget can be pared down significantly. The new Kiefer Sutherland series Touch premieres later this month.

With its elaborate sets (some 259 of them built in Australia) and post-production, it took 16 months for Terra Nova to get on the air after first announced at Fox’s 2010 upfront. It was the first series order for Chernin’s then-recently launched production company, which had several series commitments at Fox built into its deal. (Because of the long lead time for Terra Nova, it got on the air this past fall along with 2 other Chernin Entertainment series, breakout comedy hit New Girl and animated comedy Allen Gregory, which has been canceled). Terra Nova had its share of issues during production of its first 13-episode season. For starters, Craig Silverstein, who co-wrote the pilot script with British scribe Kelly Marcel, was not available because his CW pilot Nikita was picked up to series. Terra Nova recruited Brennan Braga as showrunner. Rene Echevarria was then brought in to run the show with him, the series went through 2 writing staffs and took longer to cast than originally planned, incurring a $660,000 charge for delaying the start of production. In the end, Terra Nova, whose budget was $14 million for the two-hour pilot and about $4 million for the subsequent episodes, not including Australian tax breaks, premiered last fall with one of Fox’s most hyped launches. It was a steady but modestly-rated performer and a big DVR gainer. The series two-hour season finale drew a 2.2/6 in adults 18-49 and 7.2 million viewers, in line with the show’s season average, which wasn’t big enough to seal a renewal but not too small to warrant an automatic cancellation.

Then the waiting game began.

20th TV and the Terra Nova producers proactively began approaching potential showrunner and senior producer level writers about joining the series for next season in order to elevate the writing on the show. The network was pitched several potential new executive producers as well as Season 2 ideas. Reilly, who I hear was never a big fan of Terra Nova, didn’t spark to any of the plans. The studio’s last-ditch effort was on Friday, when another prospective showrunner was taken to the network to meet wit Reilly. Despite the meeting reportedly going well, Reilly today decided to pull the plug. While not unexpected, the cancellation of a series that hails from such big auspices and is a moneymaker for Fox’s sister studio, was a surprise.